ST. PROCOP, CLEVELAND, 1872
Large numbers of Bohemians immigrated to Cleveland between 1854 and 1870. To serve them, St. Wenceslaus parish was established on the east side. As the community on the west side grew, people wanted another parish. In 1872, Bishop
Richard Gilmour appointed Rev. Anthony Hynek to form a new parish. He organized the St. Vitus Society for men and the St. Ann Society for women to raise funds. Four lots on Burton St., on the west side of Cleveland near W41st St., were purchased for $3,200. The parish was organized and named St. Procop, patron of farmers and manual craftsmen (the occupations of many Czech immigrants). In September, 1874, a two-floor frame church/school building was erected and dedicated.
In February, 1875, Joseph Koudelka, later the first Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland, was ordained deacon and given charge of the parish. He was ordained a priest that October and celebrated his first Mass at St. Procop. Father Koudelka established the school in 1876 with two laymen as teachers. The next year, three Sisters of Notre Dame began teaching, walking from St. Stephen daily. Father Koudelka taught Bohemian; he developed several readers which were used nationally.
In 1882, Father Koudelka was called to St. Louis, and people were unwilling to accept any new pastor. As a result, Bishop Gilmour closed the parish from February, 1884 to July, 1885, when Father Anton VIcek was appointed pastor and accepted by the people. In 1892, Father Vlcek engaged the Sisters of St. Joseph (Cleveland) to staff the school. A year later, Father Vaclav Koerner became pastor and brought the Sisters of St. Francis from Joliet, Illinois to the school.
In June, 1896 Father Wenceslaus Panuska became pastor. In 1899, the parish decided to build a grand new church of Italian-Byzantine style with a central dome and two towers, departing from the Gothic-style architecture of most Cleveland churches. The dimensions were enormous: 144 feet long, 60 foot wide main body, 88-foot wide nave, with seating for 1,300.
On April 28, 1901, Father Peter Cerveny was appointed pastor of St. Procop and ministered for forty-one years. Father Cerveny installed a central heating plant at a cost of $15,000. The new church was completed by Christmas, 1902 and dedicated July 4, 1903, the feast of St. Procop. In 1907, a new school was built for $75,000 and a new rectory for $15,000.
In 1915, Father Cerveny opened a two-year commercial high school; it became a four-year program in 1937. Between 1925-26, a new convent was built to house twenty Sisters. Becoming debt-free, the new church was consecrated October 2, 1929. In the midst of preparing for his Golden Jubilee, Monsignor Cerveny died on November 3, 1942.
Father John Becka became pastor on April 7, 1943. He began renovating the church, school, rectory and convent but died suddenly on July 31, 1949. He was succeeded by Father Wenceslaus Uhlir, who had attended school and offered his First Mass at St. Procop in 1923.
Father Uhlir completed the renovations for the parish Diamond Jubilee. In 1950, a Perpetual Novena to the Infant of Prague and Our Mother of Perpetual Help began. Guided by a Recreational Council, youth sports activities flourished. In 1950, a modern cafeteria was installed for the school, parish dinners, and card parties. In 1962, deterioration and high repair cost forced removal of the central dome and two towers; what was left of the towers was dismantled in 1993. In 1965, with only 160 students enrolled, the high school closed.
Father Uhlir served as pastor nearly twenty-four years. He retired in 1973 and lived at St. Procop until his death in 1986. His successor, Father James Vesely, continued implementing the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Father Vesely formed a steering committee, leading to the first Parish Council. In June, 1975, the parish grade school closed due to declining enrollment.
In June, 1987, Father Mark Peyton, the grandnephew of Father Uhlir, became pastor. That fall, the stained glass windows were renovated and the heating system upgraded. A ramp was added to the church in 1990 for handicap accessibility. The school hall was renovated and dedicated in memory of Father Uhlir. In 1995, the sanctuary was renovated, the altar and
furnishings refinished, the baptismal font moved, and the front pews moved and realigned. In recent years, as in the beginning, St. Procop has relied on the dedication and gifts of a corps of loyal parishioners to enable St. Procop to continue as a caring, welcoming community of faith.